Honey Bee Life Cycle and Anatomy


Honey Bee life cycle is a complete metamorphosis; they go through four life stages namely; egg, larva, pupa and adult. The castes have different development times as shown:

                                Days after laying egg
Stage Worker Queen Drone
Egg 3 3 3
Larvae 6 5 7
Pupa 12 8 14
Adult 21 16 24

The Larva

After the embryo develops, a larva hatches from the egg. The larva goes through five stages of growth (instars) modulating after each instar. The bee larva lacks eggs and eats the food the nurse bees give it. They are fed royal jelly for the first three days after hatching.

Later on, the drone to be and the worker to be larvae are fed on nectar and pollen, while the queen continues feeding on royal jelly only.


Antennae, legs and wings of the pupa form at this stage. Compound eyes and the adult mouth parts are also present. The fully formed pupa sheds its cuticle and does not change further externally.


Once the adult is complete within the pupa, it will split the pupal shell for the adult honey bee to emerge.

From the time eggs are laid, queens emerge after sixteen days, workers after twenty one days and drones after twenty four days (table above).

Honey Bee Anatomy

The honey bee has segments in nearly all their body parts with an exoskeleton, mainly composed of chitin. They have an open circulatory system; all their internal organs bathe in a liquid called hemolymph.

They breathe through a network of tracheae and air sacs. Oxygen enters the body through spiracles by a compression mechanism.

The Head

Carries two compound eyes, three simple eyes (ocelli), which provide information about light intensity, two antennae and the feeding organs. The feeding organs are adapted to the ingestion of pollen (by mandibles) and liquids (by proboscis). The head joins the thorax by a flexible slender neck.

Compound Eyes

They form because of repeated units called ommatidia, each of which functions as a separate visual receptor. Worker bees have 4,000-6,000 ommatidia but drones have more since they require better visual ability during mating.

The Thorax

It has four segments, namely; prothorax, mesothorax, metathorax and propodeum. The prothorax carries the first pair of legs. the mesothorax and metathorax in addition to carrying each pair of legs support the two pairs of wings.

The legs

Honey bee legs have claws on the last tarsomere allowing them to move on rough surfaces like tree trunks, and have a soft pad (arolium) to walk on smooth surfaces like leaves.

The worker bees legs are modified to enable them collect pollen. Their hind tibia have long, curved hairs and the space is enclosed called pollen basket or corbicula.

On the tarsus are the pollen brushes and pollen rakes which are used for dislodging pollen from pollen baskets to the comb cells.


This contains the main viscera of the insect such as the stomach, intestine and reproductive organs. It also bears the external mating and egg laying organs.

It is divided into nine segments with each having a large back plate (tergum) and a smaller ventral plate, the sternum.

On the abdomen are wax glands, the scent glands and the sting. The sting of a queen bee is curved and is used to sting other rival queens in the colony.

At the tip of the abdomen there are nasanov glands which produce a material made of several compounds. This material helps bees to easily find the entrance of the hive and is useful in swarm site selection, and in reorientation of the bees when they lose the way to the hive.

Biological Systems of Honey Bees:

Alimentary canal

The digestive system of the bee plays a crucial role in nectar collection and transfer, honey maturation and in hive hygiene. The mouth opens into a cavity of the sucking pump which stands vertically in the head. The pump narrows to the slender, tubular oesophagus which turns through the neck and thorax, and the anterior end of the abdomen enlarges into a thin walled sac called honey stomach which is used by the bees to carry nectar or honey. Next is a narrow part called proventriculus which controls entrance of food into the ventriculus, a long, thick, cylindrical sac (true stomach), which is responsible for digestion and absorption of food.

After the stomach is the intestine which is divided into two parts: anterior which is looped or coiled and posterior intestine (rectum) which is large pear shaped and responsible for absorption of water and storage of waste matter and opens through the anus into the cavity that contains the sting. Malphigian tubules collect nitrogenous compound (uric acid) from the body cavity and excrete them into the digestive system.

Circulatory system

Bees have one blood vessel from the abdomen to the head. The system transport nutrients from the abdomen to all parts of the body. The abdomen constricts, blood is forced from the abdomen to the head region. Carbon (IV) oxide is carried in the blood stream and is dispersed through the membranes between the abdominal segment

Respiratory system

Air enters the body of the bee through the spiracles. The spiracles have hair which prevent dust particles and other microorganisms from entering the respiratory system. After this, air is directed to the trachea.

Nervous system

The bees have loops of nervous cells. They have interconnecting membranes that connect ganglia. The ganglia at the head serve the head region. There are nerves all over the body and the antennae monitor the environmental changes and sensory hairs to detect sound. Honey Bees use pheromones to communicate.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *